A number that jumps out from the coverage of Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert's death Thursday at age 70: 306.
That's the number of movie reviews he wrote last year, according to what turned out to be the final entry on his blog Tuesday. "The most of my career," he noted parenthetically.
Think about that. He was in his late 60s, battling a pernicious cancer that had robbed him of his ability to speak, his legacy and fortune were more than secure, yet rather than easing into the graceful retirement that no one would have begrudged him, he became more prolific than ever.
Not only more prolific but arguably better. In his last, medically fraught decade, Ebert's writing was finer than ever — more wide-ranging, more introspective, more provocative and more insightful. He developed a huge following on Twitter, wrote a powerful autobiography and won awards and plaudits for his blog.
At an age when even the most healthy of writers tend to start repeating themselves and nestle into ruts, Ebert remained fresh.
That last blog entry, in which he announced that his cancer had returned, ran a little over 1,000 words and was filled with plans — a Kickstarter campaign to relaunch his TV show, an unveiling of "the new and improved Rogerebert.com," and even the possibility of creating a movie version of a video game.
The tributes to him contained no hint of the "he-was-great-in-his-day" praise one so often reads and hears when legends pass.
He lived for decades and then died in "his day," his light undimmed.
Those who knew him personally — I didn't — are qualified to say whether he would have stayed on the top of his literary game and hit that high-water mark of 306 reviews in a year had he remained able to speak and not been forced into communicating almost totally through the keyboard.
But either way, even though he didn't beat death, he conquered decline.
And set an example for us all.
Don't miss the thrilla from Umatilla
Two years ago my family and I watched "Off the Rez," a provocative documentary on the TLC network about high-school basketball phenom Shoni Schimmel, a resident of Oregon's Umatilla Indian Reservation. The film chronicled her financially struggling family's efforts to hang onto their cultural identity while giving young Shoni an opportunity to shine in a Portland high school.
In the movie, Shoni plays not just for herself and her family, but also for the pride of her often marginalized people. Think "Hoop Dreams" meets "The Jackie Robinson Story."
Though her flashy ball handling and deadly shooting fails to carry her team to the state championship, she is named the Oregon player of the year and a 2010 first-team Parade Magazine All-American. And as "Off the Rez" concludes we see her headed off, hopefully, to college.
But the great thing about documentaries is that the "characters" are real, and that "The End" on the screen indicates only a pause in the action. Shoni Schimmel is still playing ball.
In fact, she and her younger sister Jude have led Louisville to the NCAA women's Final Four this year, playing major roles in the team's recent upsets of highly rated Baylor and Tennessee.
Sunday at 5:30 p.m. (ESPN), Louisville will tip off against California in a semifinal game or, as I prefer to think of it, "Off the Rez, Part II."
Wie! Another sports and gender controversy